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The Black Lake Crossing

By Malcolm A Booth,Former Historian Of Morristown


The compleat history of transportation & communication on Black Lake would be too long for a single article. We shall not retell, therefore, the often repeated story of Black Lake steamboats, which plied from Rossie to Heuvelton, with a stop at Edwardsville, during the nineteenth century. Nor do we have space for the story of Colonel Isadore Padraza & his "floating palace." We shall confine this article to the Black Lake bridge & ferry which preceded it.

The first recorded agition for a bridge across Black Lake came in 1836, at the Morristown Town Meeting, when the residents of the south shore of the lake threatened to secede if no bridge was built. In 1841, this threat was carried out (without oppostion from the north shore, incidentally), & the Town of Macomb & was created from parts of Morristown & Gouverneur, to which, later , a small part of Hammond was added.

Why, we may wonder, was there such antagonism beween Morristown & Macomb ? I think the major reason is the basic difference in their economic structure. Macomb terrain is such that it can be used only for grazing or mining, while Morristown's farm land is more fertile & less rocky, & can be used for the raising of crops. A century ago, Macomb was the richer of the two because of its mineral wealth. In order to realize this wealth, however, Macomb needed efficient means to transportation, while Morristown, which paid most of the Taxes, saw no sense in building a bridge to enrich Macomb.

In 1851, Morristown wished to secure the permissom of the New York State Legislature to establish a ferry to Brockville, Canada. Macomb agreed to use its polital influence in Albany toward this end if Morristown would cooperrate in establishing another ferry across Black Lake, which was done. In each case, the operation of the ferry leased out to Private contractors for a ten-year period. They paid $45.00 annually for this privilege, which was split beween the towns for support of the schools.

The ferry was operated by a ferryman (Edward Perry, 1851-1877; Mort Smith, 1877-1903) who lived on the Narrows Island, now known as Booth's Island. From The island to each shore was strung a cable by which the ferryman pulled the scow, or ferry. Passingers or vehicles would wait on the shore until the ferryman arrived, board the scow, cross the channel, land on & cross the island, board the other scow, cross the other channel, & , finally land on the other shore. The main difficulty with this arrangement was that, during windy weather, they might wait two or three days on one shore or the other.

During the summer, revival meetings were held at this time on Narrows Island. There is still in existence there a sign proclaming, "HAF FARE TO ILAND." Presumable this was because of the great number of persons going to the revival meetings by way of the old ferry. Another sign, obviously painted by a more literate resident of the community, announces,"CHILDERN UNDER SIX YRS. GO FREE. ALL OTHERS MUST PAY."

Sometime in 1880's an entrepreneur from Gouverneur strung a telegraph wire from Pope's Mills to Edwardsville, wherethe telegraph office was in Perry's Hotel. The telegraph wire crossed the lake just above the ferry cable. The telegraph operater was Will Ray Perry, who now, although past eighty, still lives in Edwardsville, in the house on the north corner of the intersection. In 1915 the Black Lake Telephone Company was organized & the telegraph discontinued.

In October 1902, the Black Lake Bridge Company was organized in Owego, New York, by Ellery Colby, his relatives, & his associates in the Owego Bridge Company. The building of the bridge, under the direction of Fred Sixbury Of Evans Mills, was a difficult proposition since, although the lake was only seventeen feet deep at this point, the piles had to be driven fortyfive feet down into the muck before they where considered secure enough to hold weight. Edward Perry, the first ferryman who by this time was the proprietor of the Pope's Mills Hotel, was given the honor of being the first foot-passinger across the new bridge. It was the only toll-bridge this side of Troy at the time, & later became the only one wholly in New York State.

Many interesting tales are told about the ruses the local citizenry employed to cross the bridge without paying. One occurred on an evening when Mrs. Dick Taylor was colleecting toll. A wagon covered with hay & driven by the Pope's Mill barber came to the gate & the barber offered Mrs.Taylor toll for a wagon & One passinger. Mrs.Taylor levelled an accusing finger at the load of hay & said "come out of there. I know you're in there." Out came the proprietor of the grocery store in which the barber shop was located (who also owned the wagon), several other prominent citizens, & their dance dates. Late that night, after the toll-taker had retired, the gate was left open.- The toll-taker attempted to collect double fare from people crossing in the eveing, covering the return trip as well. The usual reply was "we're not comming back tonight." Both the Taylors & their successors, The Emmett R Booths, occasionally stayed up quite late to collect from these delinquents.

During the winters, everyone crossed on the ice rather than pay toll. Mr Booth, who had replaced Mr. Taylor in 1915 & was one of the original directors of the bridge company, often told of the Pope's Mills grocer previouly mentioned, who was always the first to cross the ice in the fall & the last in the spring. On his last trip return trip on these spring afternoons he would invarably lose grocery stock in the lake to the amount which would have more than paid the entire winter's toll charges. Meantime, Henry "Hank" Breckinridge, the last house behind Ben Lennox's store, sat in his front yard & let his neighbors from one end of town to the ofter hear his hugh vocabulary of curse words, for, as leader of Edwardsville's volunteer rescue squad, it would be his duty to organize a posse to save the grocer if not the groceries.

In 1922, the State of New York purchased the bridge & discontinued tolls. The first Sunday afterwards, the entire communnity spent the whole afternoon crossing & recrossing the bridge to celebrate their final victory over the toll-taker.

On August 17 1931, the old iron bridge was dynamited to make room for the modern concrete-&-macadam causeway which you see today. As the charge was set off, Mr. Booth ran into his house on Both's Island ,sobbing, "NO! NO! They can't do that!" It was symbolic of the history of Black Lake-- a chapter of fish pirates, of moon-shinners & of bootleggers, & of townspeople who didn't pay their toll. It was symbolic of the beginning of a new chapter, a chapter which though tamer, tells of progress & prosperity...

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